Panadol, Anyone?

It would seem that time with Kiva is flying by when I think about my remaining 4½ months left here in East Africa. Almost 4 down, almost 4 more to go. I have been receiving updates from friends in Chicago about their frigid weather and feel grateful even for Tanzania’s thick humidity. I prefer sweating to shivering any day. The bright red flowers on the trees are so beautiful here, and passing by moneys playing by the side of the road on my way to work makes me smile.

I am now helping out at two MFIs– Tujijenge Tanzania and BRAC Tanzania, which have distinct and contrasting personalities when it comes to operation. BRAC, where I’ve been working part-time for the last month, is the largest NGO in the world– I am told. BRAC originated in Bangladesh, and although it only came to Tanzania in 2006, it already has 40+ branch offices around the country. While there are 14 branch offices in Dar es Salaam alone, my work mostly consists of posting business profiles on the internet and occasionally training branch managers on the interviewing process. Besides learning about the extensive work of this well-established NGO, my favorite thing about BRAC is being able to practice the Bengali I had learned in 2006 while living for 6 months in Kolkata, India.

Tujijenge, on the other hand, is small, and for this reason, feels personal (for an institution that is). The first few months of working there, I enjoyed talking with the clients and interviewing them for the Kiva business profiles. Also, the Tujijenge staff are so wonderful and have allowed me a glimpse of the beauty of Tanzanian culture.

One thing that comes to mind was the discovery of what went into their weekly newsletters regarding my presence as a westerner at their office. Over the past 2-3 months, I’ve become friends with the marketing staff person, Ann, who writes the weekly newsletters. Not long ago, I caught her laughing at something she was reading on her laptop and asked what was so funny. In response, she asked me if I had read the last October newsletter written the week I had just begun working at their office. Since the newsletters are mostly in Swahili, and thus the answer was obvious, she proceeded to tell me what she had written. Apparently it had been a difficult week for the head accountant, Mariam, whose office I had been using to do my work (since then, I have moved to Ann’s office due to internet access). During this first week with Tujijenge, there was also another non-Swahili speaker named Sam in Mariam’s office, who had been brought from Uganda to work on the computer software. As a result, the newsletter went something like this:

Staff member Kiloko: ‘Mariam, why are you looking so ill this week?’

Head accountant: ‘I have been taking Panadol everyday this week (Panadol is one of Tanzania’s leading Tylenol’s) . I turn to one side and say, “Yes, Sam, the computer is…” and I turn to the other and say “Hello, Dana, how are…?”’


Completely confused about why this was funny, I probed Ann with questions. I finally came to understand that taking Panadol is a joke among Swahili-speakers for when they are required to speak English and don’t feel comfortable doing so.

The interesting thing I’ve found here in Dar es Salaam is that using English is rarely required for many Tanzanians, even at the work place. While their initial interview for a job is often conducted in English, it is common for the rest of the job to be done purely in Swahili. The same is true at Tujijenge, where the staff speak Swahili to each other and to their clients. It is only for visitors like me that they must remember the English they were taught from their schooling days.

Ann told me that the Panadol joke was well known around Tanzania, and that even the previous day, a visitor had used it when visiting the office. Ann had invited him to join her and me in her office, but he refused saying that if he did, he would first have to go out and buy a big tub of Panadol. Previously oblivious to this humor, for which I now realize I am often a main cause, I have since then decided to start taking advantage of their clever Panadol joke. One day, while addressing all of the loan officers about Kiva information, I told them that if they had any questions, they could approach me anytime. I then added that if they preferred, they could ask the questions to my partner/translator instead, which might save them from first having to go out and buying Panadol. They all laughed and I felt a strand closer to understanding their culture.



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